Posted on Wednesday, 10 April 2013 14:48

SA Women and the struggle for justice

By Crystal Oderson in Johannesburg

Protesters outside parliament on budget day, 27 February, demand urgent action against rape/Photo©AP-SIPAIn post-apartheid South Africa a woman is raped every 17 seconds. Public outcry has forced a debate, but do MPs have the political will to act? And what is the cause of this sickness?


During the heady days of the FIFA World Cup, South Africans donned yellow T-shirts on Fridays to show their support for the local soccer team.

Now women wear black to express outrage at the high rate of violence against them.

In2012, Interpol labeled South Africa the "rape capital of the world" and estimated that a woman was raped every 17 seconds.

The country has been listed as one of the most dangerous places to be a woman, though not yet in the league of Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, India and Somalia.

"The rate of female homicides is certainly five times the global rate," says Naeemah Abrahams of the Medical Research Council which is soon to release data from a 10-year study.

What has happened to Nelson Mandela's South Africa, with its dream of a better life for all? Despite one of the world's most progressive constitutions and enshrined rights for women, South African men continue to exhibit extreme levels of violent behaviour.

Is this a brutal legacy of apartheid or something else? Recent incidents have highlighted the problem and left citizens struggling for answers.

Anene Booysen, a 17-year old from Bredasdorp in the Cape, and Reeva Steenkamp, the 29-year old girlfriend of Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius, lived very different lives: one a foster child, poor, unemployed and struggling to survive in an impoverished rural area, the other an affluent, blonde TV star in Johannesburg.

In February they both made international headlines: Booysen was raped, mutilated and left for dead while Steenkamp was killed in a hail of bullets at Pistorius's home.

The only similarity is that both died at the hands of male friends, now in the dock for their murder.

The deaths of Booysen and Steenkamp provoked a wave of revulsion amongst South Africans, habitually numbed by statistics of doom and gloom.

President Zuma referred to the issue in his annual State of the Nation address to parliament, saying: "The brutal gang rape and murder of Anene Booysen and other women and girls in recent times has brought into sharp focus the need for unity in action to eradicate this scourge.

The brutality and cruelty meted out to defenceless women is unacceptable and has no place in our country," he said.


For the first time, Parliament's National Assembly devoted part of its State of the Nation debate to the issue of violence against women.

Even King Goodwill Zwelithini, who usually makes the headlines for his extravagant lifestyle, said the high incidence of rape in KwaZulu-Natal made him "embarrassed to call himself the king of people who committed such disgraceful acts".

But gender activists say there is little political leadership or will to deal with the issue.

"Our men rape because they can. We know we will get away with it because the police are not doing their job properly," said Mbuyiselo Botha, whose organisation Sonke Gender Justice Network has been at the forefront of gender campaigns.

" We have a president who was charged with rape. We never talk about that rape trial because we want to be politically correct," said Botha. "This is the true rot inside government."

In June 2006, Zuma pleaded not guilty to raping a 31-year-old family friend at his Johannesburg home.

Two months later the court dismissed the charges, agreeing that the sexual act in question was consensual.

"The problem is a social one, where issues resulting from a combination of patriarchal society and false ideologies of masculinity are further intensified by lax gun laws and ineffective policing," says popular singer Lerato "Lira" Molapo.

To continue reading, get a copy of the April, 2013 edition of The Africa Report, on sale at newsstands, via our print subscription or our digital edition.

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